In December last year, part of the ceiling of the Apollo Theatre in London collapsed, injuring 76 people. The theatre was packed for a performance of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which has now moved to the Gielgud Theatre.
The Apollo has now reopened after a renovation which leaves no trace of the incident from December.
It’s a very attractive theatre, with golden details and statues in the walls and comfortable seating with ample legroom. It has four levels – the stalls, dress circle, upper circle and balcony, which the theatre claims is the steepest seating tier in London.
We were seated in the stalls, and if I had any complaint about the theatre itself, it’s that the stall seating wasn’t steep at all. It meant once the seats in front of us were occupied, our view was obstructed, resulting in a lot of leaning left and right throughout the show to get a better view.
However, it did highlight how well the current show at the Apollo – Let The Right One In – is performing, as there wasn’t an empty seat in my sight. The investigation into the ceiling collapse incident is still ongoing, but for the time being there is a gorgeous tapestry of the night sky obscuring the view of the work, which suits the setting of Let The Right One In perfectly.
It extends the birch forest set on the stage into the theatre itself, an effect further enhanced by cast members walking across the stage before the production starts, representing generic people taking a walk in the woods. You are made to feel like you’re in a real place, although I felt the frequency at which people passed by made it not feel as secluded as it should have.
Onto the show itself – adapted for the stage from a Swedish novel and film – the production is both a horror and a love story between a socially awkward and tormented boy at secondary school, Oskar, and what appears to be a young girl, Eli, who moves in next door. She turns out to be a vampire and just as much of an outcast as the boy is.
The man people perceive to be her father is actually her protector, who kills innocent people by knocking them out with halothane, stringing them up to trees, cutting their throats and draining their blood, like slaughtered pigs. Before you all roll your eyes at what appears at first glance to be yet another teenage vampire tale and ask why the more famous and far more dreadful story of Twilight wasn’t adapted for the stage instead, let me explain that this a much more powerful story than just vampires secretly living alongside humans.
It comes down hard on society failing to help Oskar escape from his tormentors, three bullies portrayed very well with cruel brutality. The failings of Oskar’s needy and alcoholic mother, distant father and the gym teacher who neglects to discipline the bullies at all, are on display. It is also a story of blind love, with both Oskar and Eli able to overcome everything they learn about each other and support each other through the dark events which take place.
Oskar himself is played by Martin Quinn, who’s portrayal is funny but still perfectly captures the awkwardness of his character. Rebecca Benson plays Eli, switching between a fragile child and violent terror, with an unnatural voice which feels like it is outside of her own consciousness.
I wondered how well a horror story would work on the stage, and the answer was very well. It doesn’t hold back at all when the victims are slaughtered or when Eli goes for the throat, with lots of blood and physicality. As someone who is very squeamish, watching the bloody attacks take place live on stage was almost unbearable. But this is not a complaint – the violence is completely necessary. Despite the air of loneliness and vulnerably exuded by Eli, it’s important to be reminded of how frightening this vampire is.
Let The Right One In is a great hybrid of tenderness and brutality – a horror story where the monster is also a protagonist. It’s a really interesting and unsettling production which is a great choice on the West End.